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Positive Feedback ISSUE
Mr. Chip goes to Las
impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.
Without Joan Herron's intercession it might never have happened, that I discovered the Intelligent Chip and got myself into so much trouble.
Let me explain.
Here we are again at CES and T.H.E. Show. Four days always seem too few to hear everything and see everyone. You become the veritable whirlwind, no time for fun unless you find the time, but remember where we are—Sin City.
Last night, before the opening, I took John DeVore and Jonathan Halpern out to the Monte Carlo brewpub for fun. (Sorry, no sin story here.) I had just met the latter gentleman, who represents the boutique Japanese line Shindo, but John I've known for several years and he's a great guy—highly literate, a musician, gentle, funny... yet an audio designer. A successful one too: His Gibbon series of loudspeakers have received widespread acclaim. (And wasn't I the first to write about them, in a 2002 Stereophile Show report for Enjoy the Music?) On these Wednesday evenings I like to do the treat; during the Show proper one is well provided for by others, especially if one is the coveted reviewer (R) (I guess we need to hang with you at CES, as that has never happened to us - Dave Clark). Plus, the guys really seem to enjoy the largesse.
Not that I'm unparsimonious. In fact I am a damn cheap s.o.b., not least with myself. Yes I drive a rental Grand Am (upgrade coupons!), but I do stay downtown at a $24/night motel where I've been lodging for over a decade. The rooms are large and clean and quiet, but the clientele would be found questionable by, say, my mother. Back in 1994 I related in these pages the story of a disheveled little man who approached me as I was moving in and who said (I swear), "Hey buddy, my roommate just vomited all over himself, can you spare a pair of pants?"
Yesterday his twin was strolling down the outdoors balcony corridor with his girlfriend. She: "I wish you wouldn't jack off so much." He: "Maybe if you had sex with me more I wouldn't jack off so much."
Think I can make this stuff up?
Regrettably the dingy ground-floor saloon has been closed, where I would have coffee every morning, read the local papers and observe the locals. Genuine locals, because although alcoholics all, they were a lively crew and conversed in style—Eugene O'Neill, Quentin Tarantino-type material. And played real pool. No digital games. No slots. 8:00 A.M. I do miss these folks.
Thursday morning rolls around and here I am at the Alexis Park looking to shake hands with my buds and maybe help with last-minute details of set-up as I had the day before. There's never much good sound on Thursday anyway, so it's all social, albeit swift. For full disclosure however, I spend an hour or more every morning in the CES Press Room where the pastries and coffee are tasty and the ebullient, clued-in Kerry Moyer hosts for the CEA. There too one meets one's brothers and sisters in the media trade and can go on-line. It's a beautiful thing. Michael! John! Rick! Steve! Kal!
Just before noon I reach the Herron Audio room and am greeted with usual enthusiasm by Keith and Joan. Last year (or was it two years ago?... things tend to blur...) Keith showed me his new remote-control polarity switch, which was a big deal because for ages Keith had scoffed at the concept. Now he was a convert and I was pleased to tell him that it indeed worked. (Many don't, don't ask me why.) And today his rig sounds great right off the block, and with his own brand-new speakers yet. The greenery and other tasteful decorations Joan has provided—candles!—make the place even more inviting and I linger a while with Keith the colorful DJ. Still, knowing everything will all sound better later, I resume rounds.
But not for long.
Free Lunch. No such thing as a, Heinlein writes. Hah! This one is compliments of the CEA. Not that I much care; back home I skip daytime meals anyway. The CEA's desiccated hamburgers (experience tells me) are reason enough, but along comes Joan Herron carrying two plates of food. "Better hurry," she sings out, "they're closing soon."
"Hey, dry hamburger?"
"No, this time they have some rare ones. Well, medium-rare."
"OK!" And I'm off, as fate would have it.
With a plateful of sandwich and coleslaw I survey the crowd for friendly faces. Suddenly a voice just below me calls, "Clark!"
It's Geoff Kait.
And so begins the saga.
The saga begins
"Have I told you about the Intelligent Chip? I don't think I have." Geoff presents a 1.5" x 1" thin orange plastic thing. "Here's a device that Allen Chang has, a friend of his in the medical field discovered its application to audio because he's a hobbyist." I gaze for the first time upon the Intelligent Chip. "What we have here is, an embedded quantum dot. At least that's what I'm told. You know, quantum dots—an array of artificial atoms... the latest in meso-matter..."
Right! "So, uh...?"
"You won't believe this! But it works. You take the Chip out of its case here and place it on top of a CD player for a couple of seconds—while the CD is playing and the laser is on—that's very important—and then replace it in the case. The CD will sound better afterwards and the effect is permanent. Allegedly, anyway. This particular chip will treat ten CDs. Then it's finished. But, listen to this, if you happen to put a pre-treated CD in the player the chip will recognize that and not deplete further. It also comes in a thirty-treatment size. What do you think?"
"Uh... Sorry, I'm not sure I... Could you repeat that, please?"
He does, and then I get it. What we have here, evidently, is action-at-a-distance through a metal barrier with a memory provision and yielding better sound forever. Sure, Geoff.
See, even for me with a reputation for high weirdness these things take a while to absorb, and even then I remain doubtful.
Intent as I am on Geoff's presentation, the rest of the luncheon table has been ignored. A voice on my left says, "The ten-treatment chip sells for $16 and the thirty for $40." I turn around: "Allen Chang! So sorry, I didn't notice you. Geoff here..."
"Yes, I know. But what he says is correct. You must come to my room and hear it. Golden Sound! But first, here, I'll give you one."
Thus begins, unbeknownst to me, my gradual, perhaps I should say "final", descent in the eyes of those who know everything already. So be it.
First stop: Gibbon loudspeakers and John DeVore.
Mind you I have never heard this supposed Intelligent Chip's effect and am severely skeptical and do not want to humiliate myself so what better place to start than in the room of the friends I took out to dinner the night before? What awful thing could they say about me if it doesn't work?
Well, damn! John and I both throw up our hands within moments. We try it again. Yes! A third time. YES! Both of us are smiling. But, what the hell's happening? What exactly are we witnessing here?
I don't mess around boy
After assuring myself elsewhere and becoming totally convinced of the Intelligent Chip's weird efficacy, I develop a line of patter to confront the cynics. Hey! We're supposed to have fun in Vegas, right? It goes like this:
"Here in my hand I hold the future of audio. Anyway, of digital audio. And maybe of physics. I give you, the Intelligent Chip. It makes CDs sound wonderful... You ask, what's in it? Why, the latest in artificial atom technology!"
Oh, I exult. Watching the reactions on peoples' faces... even if they know me. Priceless! There is disbelief of course, but more than that, there are sneers. There are smirks. There is laughter. Merriment. Condescension. Implicit ridicule. Yes the phraseology is calculated for such effect, but you must forgive me there because... I'm a writer. Can't help myself.
"Artificial atoms. You're joking, right?" "Artificial atoms? C'mon, no such thing!" Up in the Press Room of course I have thoroughly researched the topic and learned that artificial atoms do indeed exist, are the constituent of quantum dots and are thought by many to be The Future. With artificial atoms one need no longer rely on the outdated periodic table of elements with its inherent limitations. Artificial atoms will rule. Artificial atoms will construct walls that may be turned into windows, windows into walls, on command. So why shouldn't they, say, fix CDs?
As for the jeering, dismissive fools now and later, I'm putting them all, in my new book. (Attribution -Greg Brown.) To reveal now the names of those who hoot, holler, scoff, mock and scorn seems unjustified. They cannot help themselves, poor things, they are the products (mostly) of government schools and "graduate education". The home-schooled, one might hope, fare better, but that's another subject.
So I shall tell only the tale of John Curl, by name.
Next morning at brunch in the St. Tropez I seat myself across from John. Now you must realize, John and I are drinking buddies from ‘way back although we have both since modified our behavior. Stolid and sober, that's us today. No fun at all. Although... we have been heard to join in chorus, bottles raised... Anyway, I give him the spiel... look for a reaction... And receive this dour response: "Clark, it's too early." So he excuses himself and leaves.
OK. But, later I learn that John has tried the Chip and heard its effect. When I confront him then with my earlier presentation and his rejection, he simply replies (here I paraphrase) that it seemed just too unbelievable.
No kidding. Atomic action at a distance, through a metal barrier. C'est pas possible!
People on the netweb's Audio Asylum forums and elsewhere proved not so gentle. Suffice to say these detractors exhibited an unreasoning, even blithering incoherency compared to John, who simply spoke his mind.
Also by now it occurs to me: What about that entry I wrote here earlier concerning Reality Check re-made CDs? In which I declared them, not to put too fine a line on it, God's gift to listeners? Won't I have to eat crow?
All in good time, all in good time. You shall see.
But, damn! Previously I had thought to make this report take a different focus, one I had rehearsed with John and Jonathan at dinner: Audio today as a misshapen sonic excrescence. A contamination on music. A soulless technology, not unlike television. "Canned music", in John Philip Sousa's immortal phrase.
You think that's bad? Try these: My best formulations: Audio: Sound sans musical relevance, insanely false, a snare and a delusion; an amusical inhumane electro-mechanical interventionist imposition on music.
A mouthful, that, but I stand behind it. Except now I've had to reschedule those unhappy sentiments for a later discussion. There's more important stuff to cover.
The Intelligent Chip's action (if true) will change forever our view of the physical realm. And by coincidence this coincides with the 100th year celebration of Einstein's annus mirabilis, in which physics was wholly redefined a century ago. What some call a mere "tweak" might now become the springboard to understanding a whole new realm of reality. I have posited this grand concept before—Audio as science-driver, Audio as an Apollo Project. We do hear things that are real, right? Which the establishment disparages, right? Do not those very facts indicate an unexplored path to growth? Surely we have here at least some fertile ground for hypothesis?
Thus I abandon my dyspeptic view of current audio practice to get on with progress. Proceeding room to room with Mr. Chip in pocket I become unsure however how to report. Do readers want sonic reality, or do they prefer the glamour of digi-cam pics that have become the reporter's stock-in-trade lately? And who can blame them? Pictures sell. Pictures rock!
My solution? Never mind the pressure to advance science or show slides, just write about the exhibitors. I love these guys! They all put so much energy and money into shows, who can deny them the pleasure of coverage? Certainly not I!
Or... would you... rather I just go on about the so-called Intelligent Chip and possibly make an even bigger fool of myself?
Your call! There's always the scroll key...
Working the room
First up: J.C. Morrison, tube guru and maverick designer who once wrote supremely funny articles for Sound Practices. What his Christian name may be I can not say, nor his middle; I just always enjoy his response to, "Hey, J.C.!" And sometimes even he's there playing a guitar. Today the trip goes like this:
"Clark, we are in the Golden Age of Tube Technology and here's why. Tubes exist now for two reasons and two reasons alone. They have nothing to do with high-end audio. We're just the fortunate beneficiaries. It's all due to rock'n'roll and cheap labor. The guitar amp crowd, the rockers, they can still hear the difference and will tell you how much better tubes are. And without Chinese slave labor—all the tube-making machinery has gone there, most of it anyway—we wouldn't have affordable tubes. Without affordable tubes the new applications would disappear. And China is changing, as is music. Before long, rock'n'roll will cease to grow, even to exist maybe, and also the slaves will begin demanding decent wages, and then, then you can kiss your tubes goodbye."
Meanwhile a customer has arrived at the counter. J.C. turns to him and smiles. "I'm looking for some matched pairs of 6922s." Instantly I know what's about to transpire. J.C. goes, "What do you want those for? Who told you that you needed matched 6922s? Because he's out of his mind, whoever he is. Or if he designed something that really does need them, he's incompetent." The guy shrugs and walks away and I say to J.C., "I knew that was going to happen and wondered whether I should stop you." "Maybe I wish you had," he admits ruefully.
Mostly however, J.C. is a great rep for New Sensor, I've viewed him in action for years.
I peer into the AudioNote UK room but Peter Qvortrup is surrounded. I peer into the Stereovox room but Chris Sommovigo likewise is busy. I peer into the ESP room... and there are Sean and Mike (that's McCaughan and Verretto) entertaining Clement Perry. I'm waved in and seated beside Clement, who as is his fashion reaches over to me with a generous hand and says, "Clark, my man, good to see you." Clement well deserves the reputation he has as one of the great writers and a sincere human being. "Have you heard Sean's new speakers yet?" he asks. "I think they're his best ever." Then Clement's cell phone rings; he answers, apologizes to someone for being late to an appointment, for excuse offers the fine sound he's been hearing, apologizes to us for answering the phone, and bids his farewell.
Cell phones! How did we ever manage without them? So recently, too.
Remaining afterwards in the room, among others, are Bob Prinz and Bob Hirsch from San Diego, to whom I had shown the Chip earlier. "Clark! Try the Chip!" Sure, guys. At this point I'm still gaining experience myself, but this be the first, ah, public demonstration. And by God, it works! "If I hadn't'a heard it, I wouldn't'a believed it," was the general sentiment. A second shot proves equally on target. Dismay, all around. Excellent!
Need more Chip!
I head to the Golden Sound room for a renewal supply. And there's Allen, with Geoff sitting in, demonstrating two other items in his hyper-radical series: Magic Rings and Ultra Tweeters that operate in the gigahertz range. Too much! I decide right away to ignore these and concentrate on what I know: The Intelligent Chip. But, damn! The sound on Allen's (very large) system is really good so I do sit down and listen a while. But then, duty calls. I request another Chip, he gives me two, and rounds resume.
AudioNote UK... still busy. OK, Sonic Euphoria. Jeff Hagler's handsome preamp has been recommended to me by the talkative Harry Burstein in NYC. Harry's a great guy, elderly but still highly motivated and, like I said, talkative. Very talkative. How talkative? Talk talk talk. Talk about talkative!... Sonic Euphoria, a passive line stage employing autotransformers, no resistor gangs to stifle the sound like other passives, comes from San Diego and I happen to know another talkative individual, equally enthusiastic, George Louis, who lives there and even knows Jeff. So it's an easy set-up.
"Jeff," I go, by way of introduction, "You and I may be the only two people on the planet who know the two most talkative people in audio." He likes it. We touch upon our mutual mild misfortune, but we do not get around to my purpose, the Chip. Jeff is pretty talkative himself, although highly informative. And likeable. I promise to visit him when I reach San Diego later. His place is called Jeff's Sound Values and can be reached on the Net.
Bobby Palkovic! How the hell are ya! The large Merlin room has been situated here forever and he knows it well. Two years ago I had introduced him to that season's item, ERS material, which still works. Bobby includes some ERS in, and with, every pair of speakers sold, other designers should be so smart. Naturally he recalls the incident (who could forget?) and wonders what I have brought today.
Well! After I give him the rap, Bobby looks me straight in the eye and says, "Clark, I wouldn't put anything past you. You're such a comedian! But let's try it."
He puts on his best demo CD, which happens to be a CD-R compilation of favorite cuts. We listen, twice, to one of them and then I perform the two-second trick. His eyes grow large, he solicits the opinion of some on the sidelines, and suddenly I find us marching together down to the Golden Sound room where he purchases two of the 30-size Chip. Later I learn he's showing it to all who will listen.
Bobby has outstandingly little regard for what others may think of him.
In the St. Tropez hallway Petra has been beckoning. She sports a black side-slit skirt, has a fair complexion, blonde hair and a great smile. The name on the door is Overkill Audio. Despite my better judgment I succumb. Why "better"? Because sirens usually land you on the rocks, right? But inside I find Derek Wilson, her loving hubby. Scots, and lithe, and funny, and dedicated, he bounds around with his remote-control keyboard apparently having fun. All with his charming accent, so much easier on American ears than most South-of-the-border British varieties.
The fellow proves quite as enjoyable as his wife, who turns out to be Swedish. Both have given up their jobs in telecoms to develop and market these loudspeakers. Speaking of which, the bass cabinets consist of innumerable layers of wood laminate and I must say, never have I heard solider reproduction of the difficult mid-bass region; and the cabinets, while large, are not huge. Granted, the entire system costs $70,000... but they hope to get that down despite the weak dollar, then introduce a less expensive version. Back in England, in Oxford where they reside, their laboratory... Well, I could go on...
Scots Derek fondly regards Swede Petra as his best ears. So when I haul out the Chip, she is... all ears. And does admit an improvement; but Derek, offsides, hails in immediately. "That's it! You've done it, Clark!" "Wasn't me," I reply. "Am merely the messenger." I give them my demo Chip with a few more charges left and invite them to do their worst with it next day, or back home. The electricity between these two—bright eyes, high humor, love and respect—is unmistakable. Great presenters, great sound too. Overkill? You be the judge.
Up in the E.A.R. room Tim de Paravicini proudly presides over his new turntable, so Dan Meinwald and I decide not to disturb that moment with the Chip, which he's already heard rumors about. Instead we shall meet in Long Beach. (Which we do, with PFO co-editor Dave Clark and contributors Carol Clark and Danny Kaey, at the SuperMex cafe. Fun, fun... and there I learn that the Clarks have heard the Chip's weird effect too. Afterwards at Dan's it works its magic as well, although mostly we spend our time together listening, as is our wont, to weird Yemeni, Tamil and Carnatic music. Plus a dose of Thirties British Art-Swing: The great Jack Hylton Orchestra. Yes! And all on 78s! Dan has got the shellac bug. How un-high-end can you get?)
It snows in Las Vegas
Friday morning, it snows in Las Vegas. Rats! From inside our Press Room aerie I see the familiar white stuff floating down. And soon as I head outdoors I detect a problem in my throat. Soldiering on, I vow to locate Ray Kimber. Last year and before, his presentation of Isomike/DSD technology was the most impressive feat of the Show. I want to know what has transpired in the interim, and show him the Chip. Except, carrying around new stuff as I do, I am aware that departures from routine may not be welcome. One must take care. But Ray's not around, so I collect multiple copies of his latest CD for experimentation.
And we all know what those experiments are likely to entail.
In addition I am distributing, at organizer Bill Leeben's behest, a solicitation letter for the Audio Asylum/Audiogon Tsunami Relief Auction. Again, however, exhibitors' attention is far more concentrated on their own job here than on anything new and unfamiliar. As with the Chip I make mighty certain they're in the right frame of mind or otherwise unoccupied, before explaining either the Great Auction or the Chip. At any rate they get left the literature.
Last year the HighEndAudio.com room had engaged me with a variety of brandies. Too many for one to sample, really, just as with Roy Hall's impressive Scotches, but one hit did warm me up and I remember the occasion... warmly. The conversation was excellent as well. This time I demur the quaff, referencing the possibly impending illness, and Ted and Sharon Lindblad (for such be their names) relate how crazy sick Ted had become after last year's Show. I commiserate, for that same thing had happened to me. I nearly had to be scraped off the driveway after reaching my buddy's house in Palm Springs. Sharon then passes me a bottle of hand-antibiotic to rub. "Hands are the main line of transmission," she advises.
After that I refuse to shake hands with people, instead opting for the hip-hop knuckles-to-knuckles gesture which, surprisingly, many are unacquainted with although delighted to learn—especially after I explain the reason for it.
Ted's both a retailer and an importer/distributor; his lines are the Duevel horn-loaded omnis, Klimo electronics and Pluto Reference Tables. Also he handles NOS Audio, whose site for Magico Loudspeakers must be seen to be believed. In the demo he has a VRS player, an elaborately different type unit that I suspect will present a challenge to the Chip. And sure enough, while I myself am able (through growing familiarity) to detect a slight improvement, Ted is stumped. Nor do I blame him. Guess we'll have to get our hands on one of these to see what the story is; my best guess is that the CD sits too deep in the machine.
Rethm loudspeakers from Jacob George remain obscure for no good reason I can discern. Since first hearing them years ago I have loved these neglected masterpieces, plus Jacob is a consummate host with a wide choice of good music to audition.
A story from the past, which I have never told:
"What would you like to listen to?" Jacob asked.
"Anything but a female vocalist," I replied. "I hate 'female vocalists'. They're all so studio. Not live. Nor alive! They come in after the instrumental tracks are laid down, put on headphones in a soundbooth, then deliver their ‘renditions'. It's all phony and I also hate how many guys fall for that crap."
Then what do I hear next? A female voice. But... what a voice! Singing a song from Carmen.
Maria Callas, the second-greatest female singer of the last half of the Twentieth Century. Hails from New Jersey. Oh I do appreciate the clever gesture as I gaze upon Jacob, who himself is smiling at the little joke. This be no mere "vocalist".
(The first-greatest singer? That would be the late Subulakshmi, she of the Carnatic tradition in India. Heard her once, too, at MIT's Kresge Auditorium–-a story unto itself.)
But back to the present, Jacob is happily busy, no occasion to pull Mr. Chip out.
Along about now I fully admit the incipient sickness and, my blessed mother in mind, head back downtown. In my room I blast the heat and climb under the covers after drinking loads of water and taking some drugs I've stopped for at CVS. Along about seven o'clock I consult my oracle as to whether I should get dressed and go to the party, but the answer is a definite No.
Once it was the Stereophile party everyone went to. My own first time was Chicago, 1987, in a hotel suite where I met John Atkinson. Next year, same town, Bob Harley asked me along to dinner afterwards at a Chicago deep-dish pizza restaurant; The Wood Effect had just been published and I was nearly in the public eye. It was an hilarious occasion. Two years later, after winning a Stereophile prize for amateur record reviewing, I was flown to Santa Fe and feted by Larry Archibald and crew. About that same time Larry began the too-short-lived tradition of hosting huge bashes at both CES's.
Huge. Abundant food, good beer and fine wine. Everyone, absolutely anyone who mattered, was there except for those with a lot more money. All that changed after Larry sold the magazine; its new owners were not as, ah, generous, so the big party disbanded. CEA tried to fill the gap, but they barely cut it. The winner location turned out to be—open the envelope—Bob Crump's TG Audio room at the Alexis Park. Allied with Bob are John Curl, Brian Walsh of the Chicago Audio Society and the Audio Asylum management (who now co-sponsor the event). Pizza and beer flow freely and, frankly, these events are at least as much fun as the Stereophile party ever was. OK, more fun.
Young Toshiro Meyers and I have matched wits, as did Joe Skubinsky and Steve Balliet in an unforgettably brilliant display of speed and erudition. Andy Payor discoursed exquisitely to me on turntables while everyone else enjoyed the fine weather outside. Once we even adjourned to a memorable after-party party in Mike Levigne's suite nearby. Last year Misty River made me cry... Nor will anyone present ever forget the time curmudgeon John Curl and I raised our voices and bottles together to a Stan Rogers tune... but I already mentioned that. It was so unlike either of us... plus, that was early in the evening, yet. Rod, Stephaen, Ted, Kal, Ian, Joe, Steve, Bob, Brian... Wives and girlfriends... love ya'.
But tonight I must miss the revels. Oracle says No.
A Saturday Morning Concert
Sniffles, but success. Feeling much better, thanks. Now we have - Saturday Morning with Romy.
Has there ever been a creature more despised, more castigated, more misunderstood, than Romy? He is hated, even more than myself, as a controversialist. Somehow his having strong opinions offends people. Strong opinions are not popular in these PC days, and that attitude extends even into audio. Read Romy's website, however, and you will be enriched.
Be that as it may, I must disclose that I know Romy personally because he too lives in Boston. We have visited each other's homes. We both love great performance. We both love good sound. What's not to like about us?
"You think I offensive? Of course you do! I am Jew, you cannot help it. Problem is yours." Oh can I ever do his Russian accent, both on paper and in person. Characters such as Romy are easily imitable. Anyway, Romy comes to CES not to hear sound, but to play great music to us. Hence I arise early to attend his scheduled session at the Edgarhorn room.
Dr. Bruce Edgar's horn system, by general acclaim, gets better every year, assisted by Cy Brennerman's electronics. For years I have been privileged to hear the latest manifestation of Edgarhorns just an hour away from home, up at Bill Gaw's in New Hampshire, therefore I know whereof I speak. They are excellent! But this morning, pressed into the service of great performance, the system disappears.
The audience surprises me: a dozen people lured here at 9:00 A.M. by the promise of Romy's show and eager to hear classical music. Which is what Romy plays, mostly.
First off: An excerpt from Kodaly's only Cello Sonata, exquisitely rendered by Janos Starker on a 1956 Period LP. Whoever was around in those days recalls Period LPs: Noisy like you wouldn't believe, along with the lousy Remingtons. Nevertheless, some great material there, and now I learn this particular platter is going for c.$600. Huh! But what we hear today comes on a CD compiled by Romy. Sounds good. Fabulous playing too.
Next, the Star Spangled Banner rendered on cello by Matt Heimowitz channeling Hendrix. O Lord! Hope he doesn't burn the instrument afterwards.
Now the intro to Mahler's Second conducted by Seiji Ozawa with a Japanese orchestra. For twenty-nine years—TWENTY-NINE YEARS—I suffered under the yoke of this moron's tenure in Boston, only today to realize he could do a great Mahler Second... in Japan.
Romy the Cat introduces the next selection, from Mozart's comic opera Cosi fan tutti (Women Are All Alike), "An opera so silly, better they should be meowing than singing." It's the First Act sextet from Boehm's 1963 recording, and man! while I have this set at home it's as though I've never heard it before.
A FEMALE VOCALIST! No! But: "Married to the Blues," the great Ernestine Anderson. I always say I hate "the blues": Too many grown men whining about not getting enough pussy the night before. In the ladies' hands, however, the blues is jes' fine and here we have another Maria Callas: Ernestine Anderson. Damn! Thanks, Romy.
And for the finale, Pavarotti. Not my favorite tenor, mind you. Big, big hunk'a brick if you ask me. Overrated? That's understated. But here be he in superb parlando form from earlier in his career. Not opera either, rather something else and accompanied by only a Casio. Although the language is Italian I seem to understand every word of the narration. Simply amazing.
Parlando means "as though speaking". Think, parlance. That's how singers handle non-singing parts (and certain others) of Italian opera. Naturally, as though in conversation. But it can also sound wholly false or contrived. Not Pavarotti, here. Repeat: It seems as though I really understand what he's singing.
The musical focus this morning makes it inappropriate to introduce an audio complication such as the Chip; I do wonder what Dr. Edgar might have thought, had we had a clear shot.
In fact the Chip increasingly appears intrusive to exhibitors' intentions and I for one don't blame them. On the other hand I have always argued that they should do their damndest to improve source quality because downstream, that's what does the best job of selling components. I include polarity correction in the necessary mix too; always I advise them to line up their demo discs to be in the right polarity, but do they listen?
Resuming the rounds
In the hallway, Ralph Karsten: "Clark! Have you found a room where they let you switch polarity?"
"Uh... Sure, on digital stuff. But it doesn't always work. OK, often it doesn't."
"I mean, on analog. Come on in."
Holy cow! Ralph has an analog polarity switch, and it works. Whattagas! Helps make everything sound right. Like, more present. More punchy. More like, for lack of a better word, life.
Excellent sound! Not a good time to demonstrate the Chip, though; too many people. But congratulations, Ralph; you're a survivor and shall endure.
Still looking for Ray Kimber. Must show him the Chip...
OK, OK, I'll explain. But in reverse order. We are not kidding ourselves, nor am I kidding you. Why should anyone want to advocate something that exposes him to belligerent ridicule? (See Appendix.) Many there are out there, poor souls, so conditioned by what they call education, or higher education even, they cannot see how they have been inducted into conventional thinking, i.e. the textbook. Anomalies no longer intrigue them and must be dismissed as products of mismeasurement or a fevered imagination. In their minds no room exists for fresh hypothesis or new observational data unless it occurred in a university laboratory. This narrow attitude prevails in all fields of academe save one, astronomy. There they accord status to amateurs, mere amateurs, if only because they cannot deny the existence of a democratically observable universe. They might like to, but they can not.
Still, conventional wisdom itself evolves as well. At one time overseen by the Church, the Enlightenment replaced Religion with Reason, later supplanted by Science. Facts, figures and logic... lore, legend and magic. Are they not related? some wondered. And so it proved to be, as "scientific" theories firmly ensconced in academia and fervently defended in newsprint were exposed as mere belief systems—time and again. Yet so cocksure are we of our current beliefs, we adorn them with the bunting of "hard science" despite the lessons of history.
You want an anomaly? The real anomaly is the textbook. Pick one up from fifty years ago (assuming you can find one) if you want a good laugh. Check out "The Law of Conservation of Matter" and "The Law of Conservation of Energy" and learn too how continental drift was the sheerest folly.
So how the hell does this Chip thing work?
Who knows? Several explanations have surfaced, least of which is the one found on the manufacturer's website, an incoherent, even risible translation from original Chinese. (Yes, the Chip comes to us from China, "the next Superpower"—in physics?) The American distributor has little to add, and in the absence of specifics we are left to speculate—much to the delight of the madding crowd. Never mind; hyenas cannot help themselves either and soon come to an unhappy end.
One longs of course for a real explanation, but all I can say for now is, look up "artificial atoms" and "quantum dots". And in case you didn't know, physicists now view the atoms of the periodic table as passe. New atoms with unexpected properties are in the future. They might form construction material with which walls may be—but I repeat myself. Only, why shouldn't they somehow affect CDs too? Is that so improbable, by comparison?
Speaking of CDs... What's the sonic improvement? Put it this way: More like analogue. Nor am I the first to remark this. The listener immediately notices a seeming rearrangement of voices, in which each strand becomes clearer, relieved of a haze that masked its individual contribution to the musical texture. Soon thereafter an awareness arrives of each isolated note's magical decay. Thereafter a wonderful likeness to the live instrument engages one's attention. Also a good deal of digital edginess disappears and, as with several other treatments, bass articulation in this highly-touted-flat-bass medium noticeably improves.
Does the Intelligent Chip solve all the problems of CD audio? No. But it certainly raises the most ire, give it that.
For well over a decade, since first discovering how digital audio can be improved at home with a little time and even less money, I have argued that investing in expensive gear that fails to accomplish these improvements is utterly foolish. If digital be such a powerful domain, as advocates say, why can't its originators and engineers overcome a few simple "tweaks" such as surface polishing, disc rounding, decoulombizing and the like? Why must these tasks still need be done by the hapless user who nevertheless has spent up to twenty-five grand?
Yet they are still necessary. No digital playback system to my knowledge remains immune to these simple amelioratives. Unexplained as that may be in "the literature", in the Chip we face a wholly new, unexpected, left-field entrant in the inexplicability sweepstakes. No one so far as I know has an acceptable explanation.
Sufficient reason to discard the thing, you say? Then you don't know what's happening, do you, Mr. Jones?
Next up: Star Sound. Chief designer Brent Riehl originated the Audio Points then distributed by Michael Green. When in Nebraska once, visiting relatives in Omaha, I joined him in Lincoln and was treated to an exceptional evening of audio and conversation. Also I seem to remember a brewpub...
For several years I have not seen Brent nor heard anything of him, but I ran across the gentle Michael Broughton, set-up person extraordinaire, and learned Brent is here. When finally I locate him we actually embrace—Brent's a very warm man, although I am not, especially. We both are laughing and naturally I'm invited to be seated and have a listen, although not before being shown an array of attractive and unmistakably effective mounting devices for electronics and loudspeakers.
In the inner sanctum are a pair of Harmonic Precision Caravelle loudspeakers (two-way, series crossovers) on stands of rococo beauty and self-evident stability. Brent slyly informs me that he has a really exotic tweak to demonstrate, and thus the stage is set. Tweak vs. tweak, as in the Mad old Spy vs. Spy days.
We listen to a couple of cuts with the others who have wandered in and everything sounds excellent except for those omnipresent digital artifacts. From out of my pocket I pull Mr. Chip, hold it under Brent's fascinated gaze, and launch into the artificial atoms spiel. But Brent's not buying it. "Clark, I know you, you're probably spoofing me. Let's just try it." Good man!
Once, twice, thrice. People throw up their hands and exchange looks of dismay, consternation and delight. Everyone realizes that we are present at a great discovery: Atomic action-at-a-distance in audio, with no antecedent and no satisfactory explanation. We are as primitive people who have just witnessed instant photography, or heard radio for the first time. It's beyond our comprehension. And well it is, that such should happen to one occasionally. Keeps us in wonderment.
And then in walks—What timing!—a Famous Audio Writer. Why do I not speak his name, although he greets me by mine? Because I am about to make sport of him, or rather reveal the behavior that allows sport to be made. Not missing a beat, Brent explains that we have all just heard this really strange but also strangely effective treatment for CDs. You wave it around for a couple of seconds... Brent is just joshing, but Famous Audio Writer fails to pick up on that and launches into a brief comedy routine involving Martian voices, various spacey noises and a riff on Brilliant Pebbles.
Clearly the Chip will not be heard again during this session. His loss.
Nevertheless, work must be done. This is a Famous Audio Writer. Brent clears his throat: "So, let's listen to the system. What did you bring for us to hear?" After the formal demo's over and we're all just hanging around, I call out, "Hey Brent, what's this weird tweak you promised me?"
"Glad you mentioned that! [Famous Audio Writer], would you care to join us in an evaluation?" "Sure, so long as you have no imaginary little green men hopping around." Brent winks at me. "No, this will be something you can see for yourself." Now mind you, I have no idea what's coming, so let's just lean back and enjoy the show, that's my motto.
And damned if Brent doesn't produce an easily audible dis-improvement by simply reaching around behind the central equipment rack. Even the Famous Audio Writer admits to hearing the effect, after whatever it is has been restored (although the Chip might have made a greater bang). What do we have here? Why, a tweak even more improbable and preposterous than the Chip. Equally small too, I have to smile. It's called...
(to be continued)
Next, in Clark Johnsen's Diaries:
When a person is wrong
and won't admit it, he always gets angry.
Comments on the Net anent the Intelligent Chip (more to come in Part Two). Bear in mind that none of these individuals had heard the thing, which makes their huffing-and-puffing all the more amusing.
A few select, non-obvious sites:
Shindo Labs http://homepage.mac.com/jhalpern/Menu18.html
ESP Loudspeakers http://esploudspeakersna.com/welcome/index.php
Jeff Hagler http://www.jeffssoundvalues.com/ (lots of tubed and used gear)
Overkill Audio http://www.overkillaudio.com/
For a fine review of above with pictures of Petra and Derek http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/overkill/encore_3.html
Duevel, Klimo et.al. http://www.highendaudio.com/
Magico Loudspeakers http://www.magico.net/products.html
Star Sound http://www.audiopoints.com/
My Show report with DeVore loudspeakers http://enjoythemusic.com/hifi2002/clarkjohnsen/
On Subulakshmi http://www.madurai4u.com/mssub.asp
Romy's site http://www.goodsoundclub.com
Srajan Ebaen on angry posters http://positive-feedback.com/Issue17/auroville35.htm
A few sources on "programmable matter"